From farm to fork: Kalettes, brussels sprouts a winter success

A third-generation vegetable producer’s decision to plant 80 mystery seeds in 2012 turned into a promising venture for the Adelaide Hills family farm which has become Australia’s only grower of Kalettes.

Seven years on, and despite an exceptionally dry start to the year, Scott Samwell of Eastbrook Farms in Mt Barker says he is expecting another successful crop as the trendy vegetable comes into season this winter.

Kalettes, which are a winter vegetable hybrid of red kale and brussels sprouts, are a creation from British company Tozer Seeds, 15 years in the making.

As the highly nutritious Kalettes are soon to arrive in shops, consumers are encouraged to choose SA by purchasing locally grown produce to support the state’s growers and producers.

The Samwell family has been growing vegetables in the Adelaide Hills for more than 60 years, with their first property in Summertown started by Scott’s grandfather.

Eastbrook Farms in the Adelaide Hills produces a number of winter vegetable crops including Kalettes and brussels sprouts.

With properties now at Mt Barker and Langhorne Creek, Scott says defined seasons and access to quality infrastructure are key benefits to farming in the state. Eastbrook has produced brussels sprouts since its foundation, but Kalettes are a recent addition.

“I just got told ‘here’s some seeds, they’re something new, give it a go,” says Scott. “In about 2012, I planted the first lot – about 80 seeds. Since then, we’ve upped our quantity to quite a few hundred thousand. It’s been a pretty exciting journey.”

Seven years on from that first planting, Scott’s farm is now producing approximately 50–60 tonnes of Kalettes annually. Alongside their green and Red Darling brussels sprouts, Eastbrook’s Kalettes are distributed to major supermarkets Australia-wide, as well as exported to South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong and Thailand.

Scott puts the success of the Kalette down to its versatility, noting that the flavour is less intense than typical kale or brussels sprout varieties.

“They’re not as strong as kale, they’re not as peppery as brussels sprouts either. They’re quite a happy medium between the two,” he says.

“If people have a dislike of either of those, this is an alternative that is going to be just as nutritious without having as strong a taste.”

Scott Samwell of Eastbrook Farms in the middle of the brussel sprouts field.

Eastbrook Farms also grows both traditional green brussels sprouts and their uncharacteristically sweet Red Darling sprouts.

“I was blown away by how sweet they were,” Scott says. “Sometimes sprouts are quite strong tasting, and you wouldn’t traditionally use the word ‘sweet’ with sprouts, but the Red Darlings are beautiful.”

Major supermarket Coles has shown strong interest in Scott’s Red Darling sprouts, having launched a successful state-wide trial which developed into a national distribution last year.

Scott is quick to point out the role that local customer relationships have played for his business, particularly through social media and Eastbrook’s new Paddock Identifier Project, which allows customers to see where and how their produce is grown, right down to the paddock in which they’re sown.

“In the past, we’ve always been a step away from the consumer,” he says. “My sister-in-law Deb manages our social media now, and that is connecting us with our customers. People can identify who we are, and where we are.

“As soon as the new year ticked over, we had people enquiring about when our Kalettes were coming into season.”

The importance of local support goes both ways for Scott, who says he sees the benefits in choosing fellow SA producers and supporting the local economy himself.

“It’s great when there’s a connection with the people who buy your produce, wines or meats through,” he says. “You know who they are, and where it’s coming from. It’s a good story, that’s what I think.”

To draw a focus on the importance of choosing local seasonal produce, I Choose SA has partnered with Sprout Cooking School and Pick a Local, Pick SA! to dish up a gourmet SA lunch experience in Rundle Mall on May 24.

Diners can pre-book their restaurant-quality dish, catered by Sprout, at and collect from under the Gawler Place canopy from midday.

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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Garlic glory on Kangaroo Island

Kangaroo Island man Shane Leahy is on a mission to ensure South Australians have a better chance of consuming locally grown garlic.

His fledgling enterprise, Kangaroo Island Fresh Garlic, is the island’s first commercial garlic farm, and Shane says this year’s harvest is his first successful yield after three years spent perfecting his growing techniques.

He is a strong advocate against imported garlic, saying the flavour of the local produce compared to imported is second to none. He is also passionate about the health and environmental benefits of choosing Australian grown garlic.

“It stunned me when I first started growing and learning about garlic about what they do to imported garlic,” he says. “By the time it gets here to Australia and it’s put on our plate, you may as well eat a cardboard box.”

According to the Australian Garlic Producers Group, Australia imports about 95% of its garlic from China, where the garlic is treated with a growth retardant to prevent it from sprouting and is also sprayed with chemicals to extend its shelf life.

Shane Leahy of Kangaroo Island Fresh Garlic based at Stokes Bay on the island.

Australia also imports garlic from Spain, Argentina, Mexico and the US, with all imported garlic treated with methyl bromide upon arrival to ensure it meets stringent quarantine import conditions.

Australia’s garlic crops are generally planted in autumn, ready for harvest by late spring, depending on the conditions and growing region.

To combat the seasonality of locally grown garlic, Shane has launched a range of value-added products so consumers can enjoy locally grown garlic all year round. He invested in peeling and dehydration equipment to make garlic granules, garlic powder and garlic salt, made with no additives or preservatives.

These products have launched into independent supermarkets and selected greengrocers across metropolitan Adelaide and regional SA, with distributors also in Queensland and Darwin.

The fresh, whole white and purple hardneck garlic bulbs are currently only available on KI, but Shane says plans are afoot to distribute the produce statewide.

Kangaroo Island Fresh Garlic also supplies freshly peeled garlic to top restaurants and cafés in Adelaide and on KI, including Southern Ocean Lodge, Rockpool Café, Sunset Food and Wine, and the Aurora Ozone Hotel.

Aside from fresh bulbs, Kangaroo Island Fresh Garlic also makes garlic salt, garlic powder and garlic granules.

“Because of the strong flavour of Kangaroo Island Fresh Garlic I only need to use one third of the quantity to achieve the same flavour as inferior products,” says Aurora Ozone Hotel head chef Lenny Numa.

Shane took to garlic growing after spending most of his working life in the wool industry as a wool classer. While born in SA, his family moved to Fremantle in WA where he spent most of his childhood and adolescence, completing a TAFE course in wool classing.

He then spent years travelling around the country, hopping from shearing shed to shearing shed until he one day took a wool classing job on KI.

He still moved around during the off-season but grew tired of the constant travelling. In 2003, KI became his home base, with its population of 4000 people and the many mates he made at the front bar of the local pub.

Two of those mates were brothers Lachie and Sam Hollitt and over a few beers the trio came up with a grand plan – to grow garlic on the island and sell it to market.

Shane says Sam was the brains behind the idea, with the three men eventually taking a trip to the Mid North to “pick the brains of an old fella” who had been growing garlic for years.

But on the cusp of launching their enterprise, Sam was killed in a car accident, leaving the small community devastated. In a second bout of tragedy, Lachie later fell ill with testicular cancer and nine months after the diagnosis he passed away.

This year’s harvest is Kangaroo Island Fresh Garlic’s first successful yield.

Months later, Shane toyed with the idea of continuing the garlic venture in honour of his two mates, believing “it was what the boys would have wanted”.

And so he carried on with the plans in their memory, eventually meeting a grower in Renmark, buying seed and planting thousands of them by hand over one acre on his property at Stokes Bay.

Four years later and the garlic crop of about 300,000 plants takes up about 3ha of his 250-acre farm, which also runs 400 crossbred ewes for meat production.

Shane says he hopes to do the brothers proud with his garlic enterprise, which is still a one-man operation besides a small number of workers employed seasonally.

He says KI’s cold climate helps accentuate the strong flavour of the garlic and says his go-to garlic recipe is a simple garlic butter.

“Work half a pouch of the garlic powder into a knob of butter and you have the best garlic butter in the world,” he adds.

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Renmark Irrigation Trust setting the standard for 125 years

The Renmark Irrigation Trust (RIT) in South Australia’s Riverland has been leading the way since 1893 in ensuring horticulturalists receive water as efficiently as possible.

The organisation oversees the management of River Murray irrigation water in Renmark and its infrastructure serves more than 600 irrigators throughout the area.

This month the RIT will celebrate its 125th anniversary, using the milestone to reflect back on more than a century of Riverland history.

RIT presiding member Peter Duggin, a wine grapegrower and third generation irrigator, says Renmark’s permanent plantings of citrus, almonds, avocados, persimmons and wine grapes depend on a reliable source of irrigation water.

Renmark irrigators were the first in Australia to replace their water channels with pipes in the 1970s.

Peter says during the early days of settlement, water as it still is today, was an important resource for the town’s growers.

RIT presiding member Peter Duggin.

By WWI, Renmark had two big wineries, a dried fruit packing co-operative and a cannery. Riverland towns were a major supplier of produce during the two world wars.

“For a soldier in a trench in France or Gallipoli it would have been like Christmas to receive a can of sweet peaches or some dried fruit, instead of just bully beef or biscuits,” Peter says.

Members of the RIT pay rates to access River Murray water in the Renmark irrigation settlement, which was established by Canadian born brothers William and George Chaffey in 1887.

The RIT was initially operated by the two brothers, but the collapse of Australia’s banks in 1893 made the organisation unviable.

On December 23, 1893, the RIT became Renmark’s first local government authority after the SA Parliament passed a statute giving it the authority to manage the irrigation settlement for its members.

The RIT has been leading the way in managing the resource of River Murray water since then.

In April, Renmark became the world’s first irrigation operator to receive global ‘gold’ certification against the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) International Water Stewardship Standard.

The RIT has led the way in modernising irrigation in Australia with irrigation channels like this one, pictured in 1893, being replaced by pipes as early as the 1970s. Photo: RIT McIntosh Collection.

The award recognises world best practice in delivery efficiency, water quality, management of environmental water and water governance.

The RIT has almost completed two years of a five-year Memorandum of Understanding with the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder to deliver environmental water to rejuvenate flood plains around Renmark, which had been cleared of their native trees and vegetation.

“Bird life is unbelievable in a couple of spots, we even have black swans breeding, lots of birds have been spotted, and the frogs are unbelievable,” Peter says.

The environmental watering is a Murray Darling Basin Plan initiative, which was legislated by the Federal Parliament in 2012.

Unlike some irrigators in the eastern states, the RIT sees the Basin Plan’s implementation by 2024 as an opportunity and a chance to work more closely with governments at a state and federal level.

Black swans are breeding and floodplains have been rejuvenated due to the RIT’s environmental watering program.

Peter says the organisation instigated the development of the SEE (Social, Economic Environmental) Renmark 2024 Alliance in 2013 to respond to the challenges of the Murray Darling Basin Plan.

The alliance also has representatives from Renmark Paringa Council, Destination Riverland and Regional Development Australia.

Projects such as irrigation modernisation and a scoping study of the Renmark airport have been proposed.

“We have so far attracted $18.5 million into Renmark,” Peter says.

The 125th birthday celebrations begin later this month with guided walking tours of the Renmark Irrigation Trust’s historic building and pumping station.

Chief of the Australian Army, Lieutenant General Rick Burr who grew up in Renmark, will also be the guest speaker at an event in the town on December 23 to mark the RIT’s milestone.

More information can be found here.

Header image: SATC/Adam Bruzzone.

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Riverland’s Venus Citrus a third-generation success story

For the past 40 years, Riverland citrus company, P.Costi and Sons has been contributing to South Australia’s economy through horticulture and boosting the region’s population by employing locals and overseas workers.

Its Venus Citrus brand of fruit has become highly sought after globally, especially in Asia and among Australian consumers.

The company’s founder, the late Peter Costi, who died in 1995, labelled his oranges Venus Citrus after his homeland, the Island of Venus in Cyprus.

And it seems as if Venus, the goddess of love, beauty and inspiration, has shone down on the Loxton-based company, contributing to its direction and ability to survive some tough years, including the drought during 2009 to 2012.

Peter Costi moved to SA’s Riverland in 1973 from Sydney and soon established himself as a citrus grower and packer, selling his own fruit at a stand at the Melbourne market.

He set up P. Costi and Sons in 1977.

Venus Citrus exports citrus gift boxes to China.

Managing director and marketing manager for Venus Citrus Helen Aggeletos, who has worked for the company her father established for 30 years, attributes hard work and commitment to its achievements.

The third-generation family business exports produce it sources from 38 Riverland citrus growers to more than 20 countries around the world.

The beautifully packaged Venus Citrus oranges and mandarins can also be found in supermarkets in most Australian capital cities.

The company employs 75 people at the peak of the citrus season and 60% of these staff are from the Riverland.

The rest are backpackers, a group of Pacific Islanders employed under the Federal Government’s seasonal workers’ scheme and eight staff from overseas, who have been sponsored to work in Australia by P. Costi and Sons.

These sponsored workers come from countries such as France, Belgium, Italy, Japan and South Korea and initially came to the Riverland as backpackers.

After four years, they will be able to apply for permanent residency to make Loxton home.

Helen says the Riverland company has had to take some risks to remain viable even when faced with a drought in 2009.

Matthew, Sam and Brad Lloyd from L.D. Lloyd and Sons in Lyrup, 28km north of Loxton, grow ecologically certified fruit for Venus Citrus’ Eco Brand.

“At the start of the drought, we were in a more comfortable cash flow position, so we actually gave bonuses to growers in addition to our normal payments to help them buy water,” she says.

Helen says when the weather conditions and future of the citrus industry improved in 2014, her family took the brave step of redeveloping the company.

“We were on our knees at the end of those three years as well, we were not immune to the whole situation,” she says.

The transformation included training nine of their key growers to become ecologically certified, developing a new logo and new packaging.

She says to be ecologically certified, growers can only use low toxic chemicals for pest and disease control, and only if there is no biological solution.

It is the first time such ecological methods have been used by citrus growers in Australia.

In November last year, China formally recognised the Riverland as a Pest Free Area for all horticultural produce.

It means SA’s horticultural produce can be shipped directly to China without having to be treated for fruit fly because the state is free of the pest.

Helen says not having to cold sterilise their citrus gives SA citrus growers an economic advantage of $2.80 a carton over their interstate counterparts.

Another record year is expected for the Australian citrus industry and the Chinese market has been a significant contributor, she adds.

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Murraylands dried fruit producers urge shoppers to pick local

Fourth-generation apricot producers in the Murraylands are encouraging shoppers to choose local when buying dried fruit products to support growers and keep the industry afloat.

Dried fruit producer Paul Prosser has been growing apricots on his Mypolonga property, about 15km from Murray Bridge, for decades.

In the last 15 years, he and wife Kathy have run their own dried fruit business Aussie Apricots, consisting of dried fruits, confectionery, jams and chutneys.

They grow, hand pick and cut apricots by hand and machine before processing, sun drying and sorting the fruit.

Entertaining Tawnya Bahr chef/tour guide from Sydney

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The Prossers grow a variety of apricots including Morpark, Storey, Hunter, Riviera, Riverbright species.

One patch of their apricot orchard is three generations old and they plan to plant a further 750 trees this year.

The Prossers say their dried apricots are rich in colour and the flesh is soft – two attributes to look out for when searching for high quality, locally grown and produced dried fruit products.

The apricot season is in full swing in summertime, when Aussie Apricots’ pickers are “flat out” hand-picking the fruit, often in 38-40C heat.

Apricots sun-drying at the Prosser’s drying facilities at Mypolonga.

Last season’s haul (earlier this year) was a healthy six tonnes of dried fruit.

Kathy says growing apricots is relatively disaster free, but a harvest’s success relies heavily on the weather.

“If we have reasonable weather conditions, it’s not so bad,” she says.

“The only issue is that you have only one crop per year so you only get one chance.”

Aussie Apricots employs a small team of regular full time employees, with its workforce swelling to about 30 casuals during harvest.

The Prossers also grow peaches, oranges, avocados and figs and source fruit from six other growers in the region.

“It’s a lot of work but it’s an achievement because without us they (other growers) would be struggling to sell their product,” Paul says.

Once picked and cut, the apricots are laid out in a specialised sun drying house for three or four days before being washed, sized and sorted.

They then undergo a dehydration process before being packaged and sold to supermarkets and green grocers across SA and interstate.

The apricots are also processed into confectionery, jams and chutneys.

Kathy and Paul also produce a skincare range of apricot soaps, sourcing buffalo and cows milk from the region’s last few existing dairies.

They hope the skincare products will appear on IGA shelves soon.

To find an Aussie Apricots stockist click here.

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